*AB:* You have a theory about time. Time is one of my favorite all-time topics, so before we
launch into what you think about time, tell me what you think time is. In other words, is time our
invention, or is time a real thing ... I realize we're measuring it, but in the cosmic scheme of
things, is there really time?
*TM:* Yeah, you give me a perfect entree to launch into this thing. See, in the west we have
inherited from Newton what is called the idea of pure duration, which is simply that time is sort
of a place where things are placed so that they don't all happen at once; in other words, it's used
as quality-less, it's an abstraction. In fact, I think when we carry out a complete analysis of time, I
think what we're going to discover is that like matter, time is composed of elemental, discrete
types. All matter, organic and inorganic matter, is composed of 104, 108 elements ... there's some
argument. Time, on the other hand, is thought to be this featureless, qualityless medium, but as
we experience it, as living feeling creatures, time has qualities. There are times when everything
seems to go right, and times when everything seems to go wrong ...
*AB:* That's absolutely true. I've wondered about that all my life. There are time when, in effect,
you can do no wrong, and there are other periods of time when you can do no right, no matter
what you do.
*TM:* Well, so in looking at this, I created a vocabulary ... actually I borrowed it from Alfred
North Whitehead ... but I think I'm on to something which science has missed, and it's this; it's
that the universe, or human life or an empire or an ecosystem, any large scale or small scale
process, can be looked at as a dynamic struggle between two qualities which I call habit and
novelty. And I think they're pretty self explanatory. Habit is simply repetition of established
patterns, conservation, holding back what has already been achieved into a system, and novelty is
the chance-taking, the exploratory, the new, the never-before-seen.
And these two qualities--habit and novelty--are locked in all situations in a kind of struggle. But
the good news is that if you look at large scales of time, novelty is winning, and this is the point
that I have been so concerned to make that I think science has overlooked. If you look back
through the history of the human race, or life on this planet, or of the solar system and the galaxy,
as you go backward in time, things become more simple, more basic. So turning that on its head,
we can say that as you come towards the present things become more novel, more complex.
So I've taken this as a universal law, affecting historical processes, biological processes and
astrophysical processes. Nature produces and conserves novelty, and what I mean by that, as the
universe cools the original cloud of electron plasma, eventually atomic systems form, as it further
cools molecular systems, then long-chain polymers, then non-nucleated primitive DNAcontaining
life, later complex life, multi-cellular life, and this is a principle that reaches right up
to our dear selves. And notice, Art, it's working across all scales of being. This is something that
is as true of human societies as it is of termite populations or populations of atoms in a chemical
system. Nature conserves, prefers novelty. And the interesting thing about an idea like this is that
it stands the existentialism of modern philosophy on its head ... you know, what modern, atheistic
existentialism says is that we're a cosmic accident and damn lucky to be here, and any meaning
you get out of the situation, you're simply conferring. I say, no ... by looking deeply into the
structure of nature, we can discover that novelty is what nature produces and conserves, and if
that represents a universal value system, then the human world that we find today with our
technologies and our complex societies represents the greatest novelty so far achieved, and
suddenly you have a basis for an ethic--that which advances novelty is good, that which retards it
is to be looked at very carefully.
Terence McKenna with Art Bell, March 19th 1998
AB: Now comes Terrence McKenna from the Hawaiian Islands, and he comes in
a very interesting way. Uh, Terrence, welcome to the program.
TM; it's a pleasure to talk to you again Art. .. how are you?
AB: Uh, I am fine. Um, now Terrence, let us begin ... uh, where are you in the
islands? I mean not exactly, but sort of roughly?
TM: I'm on the Big island of Hawaii on the Kona side. I'm in south Kona on the
AB: Um you are coming to us actually from your home. Last time we did an
interview you had to, like, go to somebody's house or something to do the
interview ... leave your own home, because you're so remote that all you've got is
a cell phone ... and that's how you did the show last time, right?
TM: That's right.
AB: Alright. This time, we're using a different setup. It has a tiny little glitch in it
every now and again, and so tell people how it is that you're reaching us .. I mean
that's an interesting story all by itself.
TM: Um, I'm reaching you on a spread spectrum radio circuit that's a I megabyte
wireless connection 30 miles to the town of Kailua Kona, and my telephone circuit
is simply piggy-backing on this one megabyte internet connection. There's a
company out here called Computer Time, this character john Breeden has an
amazing technology. I think I talked to you last year about my struggles for
connectivity when I was piddling around trying to get 128 ... now I have eight
times faster than that, and it's ... he's building a backbone for these islands, and
anyone with line of sight to the server can have up to 6 megabytes if they can
AB: Well, uh, at your location, at your very remote location, what's it like? Do
you have power there, do you have ... well, you obviously have to have power, I
TM: Well, I'm running on solar power with a generator augment. There's no
phone lines or power lines up here, uh, we catch our own rainwater and pump it
uphill for gravity flow ... I didn't start out to be a survivalist, but somehow in the
course of building this Hawaiian place I managed to get all my systems off-grid
and redundant, and this wonderful internet connection is what makes my life
possible because otherwise I would be locked out of the cultural adventure ... as it
is, I feel like I am right in the middle of things.
AB: Boy, I'll tell ya, you're ahead of most of us on the mainland who suffer with
horrendously slow 28.8 connections in many areas including mine at best, and
here you are ... it's so neat that you're able to do that these days, really excellent,
so you're um ... describe your surroundings ... I mean, do you have neighbors?
TM: Um, I live up on the slopes of the world's largest volcano, which is Mauna
Loa ... I live up at about the 2000 feet level on a five acre piece of forest that I
built a small house on. My neighbors are scattered over this mountainside ... days
go by and I don't see anybody, but if the pump breaks down or we need to get
together there's a kind of community, but it's pretty spread thin, and it's a day ...
a trip into town is once or twice a week event.
AB: Do you find yourself fighting madness, Terence?
TM: Well, that was always a problem, in my case.
AB: But don't uh, you don't have to resort uh either to uh chemicals or into uh ...
I remember reading, uh, you know, prisoners who'd be by themselves for years at
a time, uh, in North Viet Nam or during the second world war, and they would
devise methods of going into their own mind and uh fantasizing and doing all
kinds of things that kept them sane.
TM: Well, I've got 3000 books here with me, and this internet connection, and I
get about a hundred email messages a day, so ... and then every once in a while I
pack up and go off and give lectures and travel in airliners and go to parties, and
about fourteen weeks out of the year that's what I'm doing. But my natural
inclination is to be a hermit, and I don't think I mentioned it but this forest that
surrounds me is a climax subtropical Polynesian rain forest that's just radiant
and beautiful, so uh, it's wonderful. I don't think I could live out here without the
connection, that's why I spent so much effort to put it together. With the
connection I think this is a model for the future, I think as people in management
positions--not that I am--but people in management positions will realize that
they can live anywhere in the world with these high-speed connections, and they
don't have to drive to the office in a skyscraper downtown ... that's very retro I
AB: Um, listen, um, we're supposed to do this at the beginning of the interview,
and it might be that there's a person or two out there that doesn't know who
Terence McKenna is, so if you would give me a short version of your own bio,
your life, what you've done, who you are, what would you say?
TM: I'm a child of the 60's, born in 1946, went to Berkeley as a freshman in 1965,
uh, did the India circuit, did the LSD circuit, went to South America ... I've
written a number of books about shamanism and hallucinogens and uh
psychoactive plants, and I've sort of evolved a unique career as a cultural
commentator and I guess some kind of gadfly philosopher, and I've done a lot of
stuff with young people ... rave recordings and CD's and appearances and that
sort of thing, and I comment on the culture ... I'm studying the culture, and as
you know Art, when I share an idea which we both perceive as inevitable truth,
but not everybody does, and not everybody does, which is that the world is
moving at an ever-greater acceleration toward some kind of compete redefining
of all aspects reality, and I've written a lot about that, and I have a mathematical
model of it, and basically I get to be in a very enviable position, which is here at
the end of a millennium I get to be a cultural commentator and gadfly.
Terence McKenna with Art Bell, April 1st 1999
Look, thereâs a whole new audience. I probably have added a hundred affiliates since the
last time I talked to you, so maybe we ought to take a second, and you should tell everybody
who Terence McKenna is.
TM: Who Terence McKenna is.
AB: Thatâs right. If you were to have to answer that, which you do now. (laughter)
TM: Well, I guess my bio says writer and explorer. "Explorer" means explorer of
hallucinogenic plants, strange usages of exotic plants by exotic people and then coming
back and talking about these things and advocating them.
Alteration of consciousness leads to all the big philosophical issues: What is culture? What
is history? Where are we going? How are we gonna get there and whatâs gonna be so great
about it when we get there?
So, Iâm an itinerant philosopher at the end of the Twentieth Century.
AB: Well, the average Joe out thereâmaybe drivinâ a truck across Indiana somewhereâ
probably is saying to himself right now, "Well, why should I listen to anything emanating
from this drug-scorched brain?"
But of course thatâs the only problem with you, Terence. Your brain doesnât appear to be
drug-scorched, and it should be. If what the establishment tells us about drugs is even partly
true, you should be a basket case!
TM: (laughter) Well, maybe I amâ¦ ,
AB: No, youâre not! (laughter)
TM: (laughter) â¦but I think the guy driving his semi across Indiana, he may be a little
AB: (laughter) Heâs scorched in a different way, tryinâ to keep his eyes open, you know,
and get the load delivered.
TM: The stereotype of the cannabis enthusiast: Canât think straight, canât remember where they
put the keys. Iâve never felt that way about these things. I think cultures choose the drugs
they want to stigmatize, and then they glorify others, and it differs from culture to culture.
The social consequences differ according to the choices made. But alteration of
consciousness by human beings is as old as human beings themselves.
AB: Thatâs quite true. Do you think that it would be fair to suggestâit would be something
that would get us in a lot of troubleâthat there some hallucinogenic drugs that do in fact
give people legitimateâunderline that wordâinsights that they would otherwise perhaps
TM: Oh, absolutely. You give me a lead-in to talk about one of the things Iâm doing at the
moment, which is, after a conference in Mexico on hallucinogenic botany this year, a
couple of friends of mine and I decided to organize a conference on the theme you just
stated, a conference on the creative process and hallucinogenic substances because thereâs a
huge amount of the art, design, and fashion world that has for years been using these things
to fuel the engines of creativity, and itâs all been in the closet.
AB: The old myth is this: If you think your creativity is heightened when youâre on some
sort of hallucinogenic drug, then make notes. Write a story. Paint a painting. Conduct some
music. Play some music. Sing. And see if, when youâre down it was really as good as when
you were up. (laughter) Thatâs kind of what weâre talking about here, in a way, isnât it,
TM: Yeah, well, most of it probably would come in on the low end of that scale, although
there are some spectacular counter examples. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan
stoned on opium. The insight to the structure of the benzene molecule came to someone
after a cognac inspired dream.
The character of the of creative breakthrough is like a revelation, the "Aha!" experience.
Sometimes itâs a bump on the head, and sometimes itâs a hallucinogenic experience, but it
always has the character of sort of arising in a completed form, you know what I mean?
AB: Yes. Why are there so many striking counter examples. Thatâs the question you never
hear dealt with in public. In fact you never hear about it at all. They suppress that
information. Why, sometimes, is a drug a key to creativity that you would not have
TM: Well, I think itâs because of the larger effects of these drugs, which is that they
dissolve boundaries. And many of the boundaries which enclose us are boundaries of habit,
convention. Under the influence of the drug we see beyond those boundaries. The job of
artists has always been to sort of be an antenna into the future, and bohemians have always
been associated with drug taking to some degree. So I think itâs a very understandable
process, itâs simply that weâre now beginning to understand it. And we have to because the
number of substances available and being discovered all the time is beyond the power of the
courts and the scientific establishment to really manage.
AB: Well, I donât know. If you go to a doctor, you will notice, these daysâI donât know if
you ever go to doctorsâthe doctor will say, "You know what, I know youâre in a terrible
amount of pain, and I really wish that I could prescribe more to keep you out of pain,"
because thatâs the way a doctor feels, you know. Theyâre trying to ease your suffering, but
the doctor will tell you frankly that "the DEA is lookinâ right behind my shoulder, and a
number of my colleges have lost their licenses, and so, frankly, I canât really give you what
TM: Oh, well, this is a part of the drug problem. The hysteria on drugs has made so many
different people and institutions crazy in so many different ways. On the general, larger
question of hard drugs Iâm quite despairing. So many people in institutions make money off
the present mess, you know. The prison builders, the rehab people, the criminal syndicates,
the bought-off cops, the paid-off judges. Everybody is making money on this racket that
they pretend to wring their hands over.
AB: Thatâs absolutely correct. Heaven knows what the police would do if they couldnât
chase narcotics people. They would literally have about ten percent or at most twenty
percent of their jobs left, and I think our prisons would be more or less about sixty or
seventy percent empty, just compared to their present content.
TM: The courts would un-clog, and lawyers would have to find honest work.
AB: (laughter) So, in other words, itâs never gonna happen.
TM: You got it, Art. (laughter)
AB: What are you doing in terms of researching this interesting creative truth? How are you
going to do that?
TM: Well, I donât know if Iâve ever talked to you about this, but Iâm interested of course in
what these substances do to me and other individuals. But then thereâs a whole other area,
which is: What has been the impact of substances and drugs been on large populations over
long periods of time?
Iâm willing to argue that the evolution of human language and complex cultural forms
themselves were cause by disruptions in the ordinary mental functioning of perfectly happy
primates about a hundred and fifty thousand years ago. In other words, the evolution of
complex human culture based on language is actually an effect of brain perturbation and
unusual states of consciousness that were eventually assimilated and became part of the
behavioral toolkit of early human beings.
AB: So youâre saying itâs actually a part of and a continuing part of evolution itself.
TM: Thatâs right. And the important thing for modern people is: "a continuing part of."
So, when you talk about drugs, you know, today, weâre focusing on the drug of the dayâ
whatever it is, heroin or methedrineâbut in fact, over the past thousand years itâs been
drugs that have built the empires that created Western civilization. Sugar, tobacco, alcohol,
opium, tea, chocolate, these are the drugs that shaped civilization.
TM: Coffee, another big one. And of course we donât think of these as drugs. We call them
foods or whatever we call them, because "A drug is a bad thing, a food is a good thing." But
eventually people are going to wise up to this racket. And they need to because we need to
educate our children about this complex area of human behavior. There are dangerous
drugs. There are drugs that, if used carefully, can be a tremendous enhancement of life. But
you have to know what youâre doing. Itâs not something you just blunder into. And all
generalizations will have exceptions.
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